Posted on July 22, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Cleveland Indians Danny Salazar

Image via espn.com

After a seven-week absence, Danny Salazar is returning to the mound and returning to the Cleveland Indians starting rotation. The Indians activated Salazar on Saturday following an extended stint on the DL due to shoulder trouble. He will start Saturday night when the Indians host the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite his struggles earlier this year, Salazar is potentially an important piece of the puzzle for the Indians, who are trying to hold off two challengers in the AL Central.

Salazar has not pitched in the majors since June 3. That was the second of two appearances he made out of Cleveland’s bullpen after being removed from the starting rotation. In 10 starts this season, Salazar has an ERA of 5.50. However, those starts came before he spent seven weeks on the DL with shoulder soreness. The Indians are hopeful that the Salazar of years past is the pitcher returning from the DL on Saturday.

“Getting him back is good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said earlier this week. “But the reason you get him back is because you want to win. It’ll be fun to see him get back and then get stronger as he goes. That’s the whole idea. That’s why we’ve tried not to rush this because we want him to come back and be back and be good.”

Salazar has made four minor league rehab starts over the past few weeks to get himself ready. The first two were uneven. However, the 27-year old has tossed 11 shutout innings over his last two starts. One of those starts was in short-season A-ball, but the other one was last weekend at triple-A. Those two starts have made the Indians optimistic that Salazar is fully healthy and will be much improved from what he gave them earlier this season when he was demoted to the bullpen.

“By all accounts, he’s done a really good job on his work in his rehab. If we get him back and get him back like he can pitch, that’s when it can get exciting,” Francona said.

The Indians have demoted Ryan Merritt to make room for Salazar on the active roster. However, the Indians may need to remove someone from their rotation if Salazar rejoins the group full time. Based on performance, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger will no doubt remain in the rotation. That leaves Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer as the primary candidates to leave the rotation. Both have ERAs in the high 5’s.

Of course, the Indians may want Salazar to prove that he’s healthy and can be effective before they start shaking up their rotation. More importantly, if Salazar can perform the way he did for much of 2015 and 2016, it could give the Indians a huge boost heading down the stretch.

Cleveland began Saturday leading both the Twins and Royals by just a game and a half atop the AL Central. As expected, the Indians have been carried by their pitching staff for much of the season. The return of Salazar could help the Indians create more separation at the top of the division, at least if he’s able to regain the form he had the past two seasons. If that ends up being the case, the Indians could be poised to win their second straight division title.

“We’re counting on him,” says Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. “We need an effective Danny Salazar out there to be the team we want to be.”

If a healthy Salazar Cleveland’s rotation, the Indians pitching staff could be just as good, if not better than the one that carried them through the postseason last year. There’s obviously no guarantee Salazar can put his struggles from earlier this year behind him. But Saturday could be an important moment for the defending American League champions.

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